Among the lists of common and popular demons — Beelzebub, Lucifer, and Maxwell's entropy-reducing horror top my personal list — you will not often find Northwestern State head coach Mike McConathy cited; this is a damn shame considering McConathy has counted himself among their ranks almost since that fateful day when Kali was formed from a bit of leftover poison. Head Demon McConathy has coached in Natchitoches, Louisiana for the last 18 years, and his team will be the first test of the season for Shaka Smart's Texas Longhorns.
Like all early season games against Southland Conference teams coming off of 13-16 seasons, tonight's match up is most likely to be one where the margin of victory will be determined by the level at which Texas executes. Still, it is worth learning a little about the Texas opponent. Let's hit a few of the high points.
Northwestern State likes to play at a fast tempo. While not quite in The Citadel-Savannah State level of weird basketball up-tempo insanity, the Demons will look to push the ball about as often as anyone else. They play fast, and when they run they are inclined to drive the ball to the hoop.
The focal point for Northwestern State's scoring efforts is seventh-year senior Jalan West, who has missed nearly all of the last two seasons after suffering two ACL tears. Back during the 2014-2015 season, the Demon's 5’11 point guard was an unholy terror, stroking the ball from three-point range at a 44-percent clip, drawing numerous fouls, and finishing just outside of the top ten nationally in assist rate. Now he is looking to finish off what has been an excellent college career that has run a few years longer than expected. He seems to be healthy, playing well while putting up 20 points in an exhibition win over Grambling played to raise money for Hurricane Harvey recovery. For the Longhorns defense, he will be the top priority; he can absolutely hoop.
Beyond west, McConathy brings to Austin a cadre of fast and undersized players. Devonte Hall and Iziahiah Sweeney both match this description; both are fast attacking players who look to play off of West and find chances to slash to the hoop.
Inside, things are much more lean for the Demons. Ishmael Lane — a fine Demon name on par with Krampus or Vassago — is the best returning big man for Northwestern State. At 6’8 and 250 pounds, he has the heft to play against a gifted Longhorn frontcourt, but not so much of the length. Both Lane and the much leaner Malik Metoyer are the only two returning big men; both are active on the glass. After Lane and Metoyer, Coach McConathy will be asking freshmen to try to check Mohamed Bamba and Dylan Osetkowski, which is asking an awful lot.
Outside of West, the Demons look to be rather over-matched against the long and athletic Longhorns. Their propensity to push tempo suggests that this game has the potential to be an up-and-down affair, and thus both reasonably entertaining and good for promoting cardiovascular fitness.
The game tips tonight in Austin at 7:15 p.m. CT, and airs on the Longhorn Network.